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Rowan-Salisbury Schools turn around on lead teachers

The Rowan-Salisbury School (RSS) Board reversed an earlier decision and voted to approve a plan for lead teachers for Knox Middle School at its regular meeting Monday.

It’s the first major approval in the Renewal process.

When the concept was initially presented on Dec. 18, 2018, board members disagreed and the measure failed, 5-3. Members expressed concern for setting a precedent on disproportionately high salaries for lead teachers and overall teacher morale. Lead teacher pay would exceed salaries of more experienced teachers and teachers with advanced degrees. Board members also questioned how to measure the effectiveness of the plan in the future.

Under the plan, six Lead Teachers would receive salaries of $75,000 and all staff — certified and classified, full time and part time —would receive annual bonuses for serving at an at-risk school. Lead Teachers and administrators would not qualify for the bonus.

With more than half its schools designated as restart schools, RSS has been identified as a Renewal District, giving all of its schools the same charter-like freedom as restart schools. The district is using this year for planning before implementation in fall of 2019.  

Knox Principal Michael Courtwright suggested that having Lead Teachers would help retain teachers in the school. Knox has the highest turnover rate of all the middle schools in the district and is among the highest overall. Knox is located in Salisbury and has a 76 percent minority rate. All students receive free breakfasts and lunches due to high qualification for free and reduced meals. 

Knox is a STEM school where students can take high school level classes. Recent partnerships will allow students to become medical cadets at Novant Rowan Medical Center. A program for veterinary cadets will start soon.

At Monday’s meeting, Courtwright brought six teachers who spoke of their dedication. Three eighth grade students who spoke of dramatic turnarounds in their behavior and academic performance brought the emotion of the night. The students attributed their improvement to their teachers.

Danaesha Jackson is currently a cheerleader, volleyball manager and all-A student. “Before this year I hung out in ISS (In-School Suspension) a lot. Now I can’t wait to get to class. I like having the freedom and flexibility to work on a subject I am passionate about. I am so proud of myself. I never thought I would use that word about myself.”

Kari Maxwell, another eighth grader, said she has always had poor behavior. “This year my teacher took the time to get to know me, and didn’t just consider me a poor student. I’m no longer defiant; I am no longer disrespectful. We didn’t just get to the eighth grade and magically change. The teachers push me to succeed. I want to get my work done to please them. They believed in me until I believed in myself. Their belief in me has made me love my new self.”

Alaina Robinson says what her teachers have accomplished this year is phenomenal. “Until this year, I was insubordinate. Now my teachers look on me as a leader. I still have off days, but I have learned to step up.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the measure, effective immediately, to continue through spring 2021, with evaluations taken twice a year. 

In other business, school Superintendent Lynn Moody addressed the issue of how to evaluate the district’s effectiveness under Renewal. In discussion with Eric Hall, deputy state superintendent of innovation at the state’s Department of Public Instruction, she reached an agreement that DPI will subsidize a third party to develop an evaluation system. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University will serve as a third party to do the work, with Shaun Kellogg serving as project manager for the work.

Maggie Blackwell

Maggie Blackwell is a freelance writer and former City Councilwoman in Salisbury, North Carolina. She started writing on her Tom Thumb typewriter at age eight and now spends her retirement playing with her grandchildren.